NGOs favor management framework for Benham Rise

Louise Maureen Simeon - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Non-government organizations (NGOs) continue to push for the protection of the 13-million hectare Benham Rise particularly the tuna nursery and deep sea corals in the area.

The undersea region east of Luzon is located off the provinces of Aurora and Isabela, and duly recognized by the United Nations in 2012 as the newest Philippine territory in compliance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“With its wealth of marine resources, there is a need to craft a management framework for Benham Rise,” UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea director Jay Batongbacal said.

Benham Bank, the shallowest portion of the unexplored seamount, is one of the traditional fishing grounds of coastal dwellers on the northeastern coast of Luzon.

Based on oceanographic explorations, there are more than 50 species of fish and tiered plate corals in the Benham Bank.

The area is part of the spawning grounds of the highly valuable Pacific bluefin tuna which are known to swim to the US and Mexico, but came back to spawn in the western Pacific including the Benham Rise.

“There is a huge potential for ecosystems preservation in Benham Bank to protect commercially valuable fish species, noting that bigeye tuna is already overfished. This can be our contribution to the global economy,” World Wildlife Fund Philippines fisheries expert Jose Ingles said.

Meanwhile, Oceana Philippines marine scientist Marianne Saniano said the area is blanketed with coral assemblages, sponges and algae and organisms can tolerate low light penetrations.

“The underwater plateau serves as a refuge and nursery for many economically important fish,” she added.

The Biodiversity Management Bureau has also announced plans to organize a workshop on management strategies for the sustainable use of resources in Benham Rise considering the need for complete baseline assessment of the region.

One of the options considered is to declare Benham Rise as a marine managed area, with Benham Bank as the core zone with protected status and the rest as exploration areas.

Furthermore, government initiatives and explorations are ongoing since 2013 as the Benham Rise plays a big role in the fisheries sector because the shallowest area has shown primary productivity.

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